Essoldo Birkenhead

Claughton Road,
Birkenhead, CH41

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Essoldo Birkenhead

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Located at the corner of Claughton Road and Oliver Street. The Ritz Cinema was built for and operated by the S.M. Super Cinemas Ltd. chain, headed by Southan Morris. It opened on 4th October 1937 with Robert Taylor in "The Man in Possession, plus a stage show, and organist Rowland Tims opened the Compton 4Manual/11Ranks organ which had an illuminated console located on a lift in the centre of the orchestra pit. Film star Gracie Fields was there to officially delare the cinema open.

The exterior was in white Portland stone, and there was a 70 feet tall glass and steel frame tower above the corner entrance. There were almost 2,500 seats located in stalls and circle levels. The side-walls had modernist murals, and there were troughs across the the ceiling which contained concealed lighting. The proscenium was 56 feet wide, and there was a fully equipped stage, which was 75 feet wide. There was also a cafe.

On 21st December 1940, after the presentation of Linda Darnell in "Stardust" & Florence Rice in "The Girl In Room 313" had ended, organist Harold Hunt was keeping the audience entertained as there was an air-raid outside. The Ritz Cinema was severely damaged by a German bomb which came through the roof, exploding just in front of the circle. It killed 10 and there were over 100 casualties. A second bomb had shattered the rear wall of the building. The front of the building and foyer areas were untouched.

The building lay in a semi-derelict state for several years, until after the end of World War II, when in July 1946, local Birkenhead architects M.W. & W.M. Shennan were employed to draw plans for the renovation of the cinema. A second-hand Christie 2Manual organ formerly installed in the La Scala Cinema, Glasgow, was purchased to replace the badly damaged Compton organ.

The Ritz Theatre was re-opened on 13th January 1947 with Fred Astaire in "Blue Skies", plus a stage show featuring Billy Cotton and His Band, and organist Robinson Cleaver playing the Christie organ.

The Ritz Theatre was taken over by the Essoldo Cinemas chain on 26th August 1954, and was re-named Essoldo. It was closed on 5th January 1969 with Boris Karloff in "The Body Snatcher" and Glenn Langan in "The Amazing Colossal Man".

It was converted into a Ladbokes Bingo Club, later operated as a Top Rank Bingo Club, and closing as a Mecca Bingo Club in early-November 1997. It was demolished in September/October 2000, and the land is now used as a car park.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 6 comments)

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on April 14, 2011 at 8:40 am

A picture of the theatre as a Top Rank Bingo centre: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stagedoor/333996478.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on April 14, 2011 at 8:59 am

A set of vintage photographs of the Ritz Cinema, and some demolition photographs:
View link

Simon Overton
Simon Overton on April 14, 2011 at 4:15 pm

The photograph of the Compton is quite similar to Southampton’s ABC Forum… so pretty with the coloured lights inside and such a unique “Melotone” sound.

Mike_Blakemore
Mike_Blakemore on October 27, 2011 at 10:11 am

Billy Fury… made his debute here by accident.. An Act did not turn up… Did an audition in an “EXIT” and ended up on stage.. The rest was history.. The usless facts I Know…

Scouser
Scouser on December 22, 2013 at 8:18 pm

Does anyone know what bands played at the Plaza (B-Head) in the 1960s. Did Marmalade doe a gig there and does anyone know if the Hollies did a gig there? Dates as well please if possible? Kind Regards, Scouser from the one eyed city:)

Mike_Blakemore
Mike_Blakemore on December 22, 2013 at 11:57 pm

“Billy Fury” Started his Career here… The supporting act did not turn up.. He had asked to see the Promoter to see if he could get future work.. He was auditioned in one of the Exits.. Hmm Ended up n stage that very night.. and the rest is history..

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